The Effect of Creditor Rights on Capital Structure, Investment, Profitability, and Risk: Evidence from a Natural Experiment

By Aras Canipek (University of Konstanz), Axel Kind (University of Konstanz; University of Basel; University of St. Gallen), and Sabine Wende (University of Cologne)

Supply-side scholars have argued that laws which mandate managers to leave upon bankruptcy filing and which grant secured creditors strong power to quickly seize their collateralized assets lead to higher recovery rates, lower interest costs, and relaxed financial constraints, and that these consequences ultimately foster economic growth. In contrast, a more recent demand-side view raises the concern that borrowers can feel threatened by such liquidation-oriented regimes. Threatened borrowers may take (economically undesirable) actions to reduce the likelihood of having to bear high distress costs.

We find evidence in favor of the demand-side view by using Germany’s bankruptcy reform (ESUG) of 2012 and studying the causal effects of an exogenous downward shock to creditor rights on firms’ financial and investment policy. ESUG limited the rights of secured creditors by strongly facilitating firm continuation and allowing the manager to stay in unrestricted corporate control. In the study, we show that high-tangible-asset companies – which the reform predominantly affected – turned away from being overly risk-averse at the cost of profitability, relative to low-tangibility control firms. Specifically, weaker creditor rights motivated affected firms to increase financial leverage and to prefer the more flexible unsecured debt. Moreover, affected firms reduced unprofitable but risk-lowering expansions and sold off less profitable but easily-marketable assets that are useful in downturns by providing the liquidity that can prevent bankruptcy. Our results suggest that weaker creditor rights encourage firms to eliminate protection mechanisms formerly constructed to contract around liquidation-oriented bankruptcy provisions. This view is supported by the increased profitability and higher risk of treated firms after the reform.

The stronger pre-ESUG creditor rights not only produced ex post deadweight losses in terms of inefficient liquidation, but also discouraged firms to make profitable investment decisions. This reveals ex ante inefficiencies of creditor rights, an aspect largely ignored in the extant literature.

The article can be found here.